EXCLUSIVE: Florida honors an elusive big cat known as the Florida Panther as its state animal, but the fate of the magnificent creature remains in doubt.
For decades its habitat has been fragmented by development, and only 200 or so adult Florida Panthers remain. But legislation passed in 2021, and the efforts of a coalition of Indigenous people, conservationists, ranchers and others are offering hope for the feline’s survival.
The National Geographic film Path of the Panther, directed by Eric Bendick and executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, documents a remarkable attempt to track the movements of the panther in the wild and the broader movement to protect its home through the establishment of a wildlife corridor of public and private lands. Wildpath and Grizzly Creek Films today announced the documentary will open in over 40 theaters in Florida on February 24, including Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa. Path of the Panther will premiere on the National Geographic Channel and stream on Disney+ in the spring.
“This is a film that Floridians absolutely need to see on the big screen,” Bendick said in a statement. “From the never-before-seen footage of elusive panthers in the wild to the real-life heroes who are risking it all to save the species and the land they need to survive, audiences will experience action that literally jumps off the screen and moments that fill us with hope, determination and sheer awe for the beauty of wild Florida.”
The film, winner of numerous awards at festivals around the country, closely follows the work of National Geographic Explorer and photographer Carlton Ward Jr., as well as the allied groups fighting to keep the Florida Panther from extinction. “This odyssey of hope and heartbreak is the culmination of more than five years of field research, 500,000 still images, and over 800 hours of ultra-high definition camera trap footage,” according to a statement. “Against all odds, wild panthers have been stunningly captured in their native ecosystem, as they’ve never been filmed before.”
The Florida Panther nearly became extinct in the 1950s. “It has been on the federal endangered species list since 1967 and on the state’s endangered list since 1973,” according to Florida’s Department of State. “The future of this large animal depends entirely on the management decisions that are made today on its behalf.”
Impact producer Tori Linder commented, “Path of the Panther is a testament to how Florida’s state animal is leading the way for unprecedented conservation goals and achievements across the greater United States and beyond. The production was filmed throughout the state of Florida and required the field team to manage as many as 30 photo and video camera traps over more than five years. This collaborative effort united a team of biologists, landowners and tribal members to bring the story to life. The film could not have been created without the support of the entire crew, cast, donors and local communities who find common ground with the panther’s story.”
Tom Winston of Grizzly Creek Films produced the documentary, alongside Carlton Ward Jr. and Tori Linder of Wildpath. Academy Award-winning actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio serves as executive producer with Jennifer Davisson and Phillip Watson of Appian Way Productions, in addition to Howard G. Buffet, Ted Haddock and Sigrid Tiedtke.
Watch the exclusive trailer above.
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